A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
Our Gospel is this: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. (2 Corinthians 5:19) This is the “Good News” (the literal meaning of Gospel) in a nutshell. All else is explanatory detail.
Reconcile – what does that mean? The best “ordinary” use I know of the term refers to the labors I go to at the end of the month to get my checkbook and my bank statement to match. We call it reconciling our checkbooks. In the case of my checkbook and the bank statement, the term “reconcile” refers to a process in which it always turns out that the bank is right, and my books are wrong.
We often think rather of “reconcile” in terms of give-and-take, a synonym for “compromise” or “mediate” – as when an estranged couple determines to be “reconciled.” The good news of the Gospel is precisely not this – as though the Gospel brings God and me together by getting us to meet half-way. Rather, the Gospel is the declaration that the Father has bridged our estrangement unilaterally, by sending the Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8)
The Gospel is this indescribably good news: “No matter how far from God you may have run, Jesus Christ is God reaching out to you across the chasm.” Were it up to us to meet God half-way, we’d be sunk before we start. Reconciliation depends not on our making amends with God, but on God “not counting our trespasses against us.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
Furthermore, “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18) to do as Jesus does. Like Jesus, we reach out across chasms of estrangement without insisting that others meet us halfway.
Our mission statement underscores that we are called to demonstrate the reconciliation that we proclaim. We demonstrate our reconciliation to God by living according to God’s way, and not our own. The way that gets made concrete is that we live to please others rather than ourselves. (Philippians 2:4)
In short, our mission is (1) to proclaim the good news that Jesus reaches across the abyss of our estrangement from God to restore our communion with our Creator, and (2) to demonstrate that good news by living in such a manner with one another. From another angle, when I am reconciled to God and you are too, we are unavoidably reconciled to each other. In so living, we demonstrate that the good news we proclaim really is true.
The flip side of this is that when we proclaim God’s reconciling love in Christ, but demonstrate an inability to live in reconciliation with each other, we render our proclamation null and void. Why would the world believe our message of reconciliation with God if we cannot live in reconciliation with each other?
Whether it describes our relationship to God or to each other, “reconciled” means the same thing it does with my bank account – it means both sides have come together, no matter how far apart they started. A reconciled relationship is a “together” relationship.
This is, of course, a much more difficult way than simply going our separate ways. That is the natural course of things. But thanks be to God, in Jesus the “natural” course of things comes to an end. It is nothing less than “a new creation”! (2 Corinthians 5:17) The new creation is precisely this – all that separated us is overcome. Babel turns into Pentecost. Brokenness yields to wholeness. This we proclaim; this we live. This is our mission.
Reconciled and reconciling,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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